Learning To Know My People.

The Indians are a people requiring a good deal of patience on the part of their teachers, as, those who have tried working among them have generally found. There is on the one hand a charming fascination about their simple manners and habits, their readiness to receive and accept Gospel teaching, the bright winning smile that lights up their faces when pleased, their stoical behaviour under adverse circumstances, their gentleness and politeness, the absence of that rough manner and loud talk which is so common among white people of the lower classes; and yet on the other hand we must admit that there are certain strong points in their natural character which are anything but pleasing; and it is, I believe, these points coming to the notice of people who are not inclined to befriend them that have earned for them the character of an idle, ungrateful people. Many a time has it been said to me, “How can you waste your time working among those Indians? They will never get any better for all you can teach them or do for them.” And yet I have continued labouring, and do still labour among them, believing that it is God’s will that every wandering sheep should be sought out and, if possible, be brought into the Good Shepherd’s fold. If at times I have found them trying, yet, after all, I doubt if they are much more so than many a community of white people.

I will now give a few extracts from, my journal of the winter 1872-73.

_Oct._ 21, we were up at 5.30 a.m., preparing for the “Bee;” I rang the church bell to bring the Indians together, and hoisted the Union Jack. Mrs. Cryer got tea made, and pork and potatoes cooked, and about 7.30 a.m. twelve stalwart Indians sat down to breakfast. Then axes were shouldered, the oxen yoked, and we started for the farm land a little way back from the house. We mustered twenty-two in all and had a good days’ work–chopping down trees and brush-wood, grubbing up roots, and making huge fires to burn all up. About twelve acres were cleared sufficiently for ploughing, and this will be fenced round. In the evening, when the men all came in for supper, I showed then my plans for the new buildings, and they seemed very much pleased with them. Later in the evening I was asked to come in to Bubkwujjenene’s house, as they wished to settle the matter about the ox.

_Nov._ 21.–The Indians held a great council in the school-house this evening. Chief Buhkwujjenene was the principal speaker. He spoke very eloquently, feelingly, and quite to the point,–describing his journey to England and his kind reception by so many friends there. Then he spoke of the proposed Institution, for which money had been collected, and told the people that an opportunity was now given them of improving themselves and their children, and he urged upon all to support the movement and to give up their children to be educated. Chief Little Pine spoke of the increasing value of their land and the desire of the white people to purchase it from them. Our wealth, he said, is our land. As long as it lies idle it is worthless. We must clear our land and farm it, and then it will be of the greatest value. He also spoke of the Institution, and advised the people to send their children. Misquaubuhnooke and Shabahgeezhik also spoke, and each found fault with the Indians for not exerting themselves more; they said the congregations were not large enough on Sundays, and that many of the people who had families did not send their children to school.

_Dec._ 1, _Advent Sunday._–Heavy snow falling, but good congregations. I preached from Rom. xiii. 12. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” We have commenced a weekly offertory, and it amounts to nearly two dollars a Sunday. Two churchwardens have been appointed, and one of them has charge of the Church funds and is supposed to purchase all that is necessary in the way of fuel, oil, &c. The collections ought to be ample to meet all expenses besides paying the sexton; but if not constantly watched the Indians are apt to spend the money on things not really wanted, while we are shivering for want of fire, and blinding ourselves for want of light.

_Dec. 27._–Evening Communicants’ meeting at William Shabahgeezhik’s; about twenty-five present. I spoke very plainly to the people, and urged none to come forward to the Sacrament without due preparation. I said I would rather see ten persons kneeling at the rail and feel that they were truly in earnest, than thirty people who had come forward without thinking of what they were doing. I invited them to come and talk with me individually in private. I said God had brought me to this place to be their friend and counsellor, and to help them on their road to heaven, and I hoped that they would regard me as such.

_Dec. 28._–Our first winter mail arrived to-day. The first mail we hear was lost and one of the couriers drowned, so this must be the second that has now arrived. I had only just brought up a large packet of letters and papers to the house, when I was called away three miles distant, to see a man who had been taken suddenly ill and was supposed to be dying. I went in the sleigh and administered medicine to him. Then came a call in an opposite direction to see Chief Little Pine, who is also sick. He has no serious symptoms, but is very weak, and eats nothing. He says he does not wish to say anything about his illness, and wants no medicine. “The great God,” he said, “knows a11, and He can take care of me.”

_Dec. 29, Sunday._–We had twenty-seven at Holy Communion to-day,–little over half the number that assembled last year. I take this for a good sign. I trust that our people are beginning to think more, and to realize how solemn is this Holy Feast. The offertory collection was nearly four dollars. This I take for the relief of the sick. On the other Sundays the money is used for church expenses.

_Jan._ 3, 1873.–Meeting to-night at Peter Jones’–about twenty-four present. After it was over I told the people that the meeting next week would be at Misquaubuhnooke’s, on Sugar Island, and we had made a plan for Mr. Frost to go over and teach school there three times a week. I also made some reference to the dancing, in which they so much indulge at this time of the year,–exhorting them not to keep up their parties late at night, to finish with reading and prayer, and not to be ashamed for the Bible to be seen on the table; also not to let the whiskey bottle appear. I said God willed that we should enjoy ourselves, but in our enjoyment we must remember Him, and not give way to sin.

_Jan._ 4.–Yesterday, while out, I was called in to see a poor boy in a very suffering state, a large piece of cord-wood having fallen on his arm and created some internal injury. The accident happened five days ago, and nothing yet had been done. I immediately applied a cooling lotion. The poor little-fellow, who is only about thirteen years old, was in great pain. His home is some three miles off, on Sugar Island, and his mother had only heard of the accident to-day, and had just arrived when I was called in. This morning I have brought him up in the sleigh to my house and placed him on a bed in the little old school-house; there is a nice fire in the stove, and we have given the mother cooking utensils and food, so they will be quite comfortable.

_Jan._ 5.–About eleven o’clock last night the poor boy’s mother came knocking for me at the window; so I went over to see him. He seemed much worse, and was screaming with the pain; his arm was quite black and the inflammation extending to the hand. The mother seemed in great trouble, and being Roman Catholics, I told her I would go over to see the priest, and perhaps he would send some one to the Sault for the doctor. The priest came back with me, but seemed to think it no use to send for the doctor, as, if mortification was beginning, he could do no good, I then left the priest alone with him, while I went to prepare a soothing draught. While walking with the priest, I took the opportunity to say a few words to him about my visiting his people. I told him I was often called in by has people to visit their sick ones, and hitherto had made it rather a point of honour not to speak to them about religion, as I thought he would not like it, and only on one occasion had done so. I however, did not like this plan; as a clergyman I felt that I ought to have the privilege of speaking to those whom I was called on to visit, especially the dying; so, if he objected to my doing so, it would be best for him to tell his people not to send for me. The priest said he certainly should not like his people to be talked to; still he would be sorry for me to give up visiting the sick, and “if I wished sometimes to offer words of consolation I must do so.”

At the close of my sermon to-day I mentioned this circumstance to our people, showing them first of all the difference between our religion and that of the Roman Catholics–the latter shut the Bible up, we give it to all; the latter teach people to depend on the priest for everything, we point only to God and to Jesus Christ. I said I indeed desired to see all the people on this Reserve members of our Church; still I felt that this would not be effected by strife and quarrelling, but only by love. I wished, I said, to try and copy the Saviour, who loved all men alike. For this reason, when called to help Roman Catholics or to give them medicine, I was willing to do so, as I thought it was right to do so. Still I had long felt dissatisfied that my tongue should be tied when visiting these people, for fear of offending the priest. For that reason I had now had a talk with the priest, and told him that in future, if I visited his people, I must be allowed to talk to them. If he did not like me to do this, he must forbid them sending for me. A good many of our people went in after service to see the poor sick boy. I took Archie in also to see him. The boy seemed much pleased to see him, saying, ‘Kagat minwahbumenahgooze’ (he is very pretty), and afterwards repeated the same words to his mother when she came in.

_Jan. 7._–This evening I had quite a nice talk with my poor boy-patient. I told him the story of God’s love in sending His Son to die for us; also about the penitent thief on the cross being saved in his last hour of life. The child listened very attentively, and appeared to drink in all that I told him, and I then knelt by his bed-side and prayed for him.

_Jan. 10._–My poor boy is, I hope, getting a little better. His arm gives him less pain. I again had a little talk with him, and prayer. I asked him if he thought God treated him hardly in sending him so much suffering, and he replied, “No.” I then told him that God had certainly sent it all in love for his soul, so that he might be led to think and prepare for the future life: God had already heard our prayers for him, and if he should get quite well, I hoped he would always love and serve God.

_Jan._ 19.–Frost has begun his school on Sugar Island. The first day he had thirteen children and the second day fourteen. He is getting on wonderfully with the Indian language, and can read the lessons in church.

_Feb._ 2, _Sunday._–To-day we had about seventy at at morning service, and twenty-seven communicants. Chief Little Pine came yesterday to see me about the Holy Communion. He said that recently I had spoken so strongly about the danger of receiving it unworthily that he was afraid. I knew, he said, that he owed Penny over twenty dollars; also that he had not yet paid his promised subscription of ten dollars to the school. I told him God knew the secrets of all our hearts. If he really intended to pay what he was owing as soon as possible, it was not sin for him to be in debt, and he might partake of the Sacrament with a clear conscience. I was rather glad, however, to see him turn away at the end of the service. It is the first time that he has done so, and I trust he is really beginning to think more of what it all means.

Wilson, Rev. Edward F. Missionary Work Among the Ojebway Indians. London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. 1886.

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